Friday, March 15, 2013

LITTLE LEAGUE MEMORIES


WHAT I LACKED IN HEIGHT WAS MADE UP FOR IN HAIR.


Out driving the other day when I passed a diamond with two teams playing on a beautiful late morning. It dawned on me then that March was when my Fair Oaks and Interbay Little League seasons always began in Tampa. I was a Little-Leaguer from the early 1970s, playing on three teams: the Fair Oaks Sharks (ages 6-8), Interbay Jets (8-10) and Interbay Pepsis (10-12).

Seems like just yesterday when: 
  • My dad would take me to the local sporting goods store, Dan's Sports, to get my sanitary socks, undershirts, etc. What I remember most were smells of leather, rubber and fabric.


JOEY HAD ME BEAT ON SIDEBURNS.

  • Driving the ball between the left and center fielders and seeing Coach Clark frantically signalling me to go to second ("Run, Dino, run!!'') because he knew I was so used to turning right after making an out.
  • We sometimes would take batting practice using wood bats. One teammate, our first baseman on the Pepsis, swung wood during games. Hearing the sound and experiencing the feel of a crisply struck ball on lumber is righteous.
  • Checking myself out in a full-length bathroom mirror after dressing into my uniform and making sure every inch was just so.

THE FAIR OAKS LITTLE LEAGUE MIGHTY-MITE SHARKS, WITH ME FIRST ROW, SECOND FROM LEFT.

  • At tryouts one cool late winter morning, I connected on a coach's lob and drove it to deep center. All the coaches scouting then rushed over to ask my name, making me feel like a superstar free-agent.
  • I didn't start, ''riding the pine'' as we called it, and feeling humiliated. Not all of these recollections will be groovy.
  • Playing left field instead of my customary second base during an all-star game under the lights, I was goofed on by some hecklers. These two geniuses were probably in their late teens, dateless and obviously angry about it. "Hey, why ya standing in a hole out there?'' was among the many insults they cracked, laughing all the while. That got me mentally out of the game and hurt. Fortunately, the ball was never hit to me. 

A PROTOTYPICAL NO-HIT, GOOD-FIELD LITTLE SQUIRT.

  • The Pepsis advanced to the city playoffs. We were playing against an all-black team. A couple players started calling me "Tank'' because of my muscular build and gung-ho style, always diving for balls and sliding hard into bases, often unnecessarily. Some of their parents came up to my dad afterward and told him I was fun to watch because of my hustle and intensity. Probably in a rodeo clown sort of way.
  • That hard-ass demeanor got me into trouble eventually. At one game with my mom watching, I played terrible. As I was leaving the park, one of the other moms tried to console me. I ignored her and kept walking toward the car. Mom was left to apologize for my rudeness. She wasn't done with me, however. After catching up, she spun me around, sternly said that was unacceptable and sent me back to personally apologize. I never saw her so angry. That left an impression, a life's lesson never to forget. Thanks, Mom. You taught me more in that one moment than I ever learned on the diamond.
I regretfully took Little League way too seriously. My parents thankfully did not. Since my playing days ended, I fear it's the other way around. Little League should be about going for pizza, win or lose while still in dirty uniforms, imitating favorite players' batting stances and shoving baseball cards into bicycle spokes. OK, maybe not that last part.



"YAZ Jr.'' IN FRONT OF OUR BELOVED BOAT.

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